Time to Bud…

It comes around so quick. Amidst the busy-ness of summer harvest time we somehow find time to kneel among our beautiful seedling root stock nursery and imagine the varieties they will one day be. It’s a little bit Frankenstein, a little bit God, to change the destiny of these wee trees and transform them into the varieties of juicy, tasty fruit we want them to be. But that’s how it works. If we let the trees that we’ve grown from seed or cutting grow to maturity, sure they will fruit, but the fruit will likely be small, not very tasty or both! In the case of citrus and plum seedlings, they will most likely be extremely spiky too! 

That’s where summer budding comes in. By budding we can add one or more know varieties of fruit cultivar to the seedling rootstock. That’s where the Frankenstein thing comes in. You have to have a surgeon’s precision (and ideally over 50 year’s experience like Merv) to cut the fine incisions in the bark of the rootstock trunk (which by now is about the thickness of your index finger), just big enough for the bud to slide in and get taped on. Once the sap starts to flow and join the new bud onto the original rootstock tree then we have success, but if our cuts are a bit outta whack, the bud a bit big or dry, or the season too late then we have to wait again until spring to graft and try again.

February is the ideal time for budding. The rootstock trees are as big as they’re going to get (more or less) and the sap is still flowing, so happy unions between bud and tree can happen. Once the trees start to slow down for autumn and their winter hibernation, then the bark wont ‘lift’ anymore to receive a bud. This week, we (Merv, Katie and Sas) started our summer budding on the peaches. With freshly sharpened knives in hand we budded about 150 trees of all sorts of varieties of peach and nectarine. The rootstock trees we’ve grown from seed we saved out of last year’s bottling adventures. If the buds are successful, the trees should be ready to plant out in winter 2020.

It’s not the most glamorous or elegant activity, spending hours on your elbows and knees carefully slicing open small trees. But it is so incredibly interesting to see how the trees grow and learn about all the different varieties and experiment with different techniques, such as multi-buds on single trees. If we’re creating monsters, at least they’re edible monsters!!!

Grow well

Sas

3 steps to a new tree with bud grafting

Do you know how to graft? Have you tried, but had mixed success? It’s not difficult, but has lots of aspects to it, and is one of those skills (like pruning) that needs practice to cement the theory.

We love it when people who have been to our workshops get back to us to let us know how they went, like this note from Judy, who came to a recent budding workshop.

Just writing to say how thrilled I am to be gazing in wonder and, I must say, anticipation at my very own young nectarines!! These be the first fruits of your terrific budding workshop!”

Judy’s budded nectarine!

If you haven’t heard of it before, budding is the type of grafting we do in summer, and it’s pretty easy. The technique is as simple as taking a single bud from the desired variety, and inserting it under the bark in the graft recipient tree, or rootstock.

It’s interesting that Judy sent us a photo of her nectarine tree, because though budding can be used for all fruit trees, it is the only type of grafting we routinely use for peaches and nectarines, as they tend to be very ‘gummy’ and the more traditional winter grafting techniques don’t usually work, as the big cuts that are required stimulate the trees to respond with a lot of sap, which prevents the graft from ‘taking’.

Grafting is literally thousands of years old. It was known to be used by the Chinese before 2000 BC.  It is one of the basic life skills that underpins our food security because it’s what turns a rootstock or seedling (which may not have good fruit on it) into a known “variety” that will bear reliable, high quality fruit.

Unfortunately it’s almost a lost art, and hardly anyone knows how to do it any more.

We’re on a mission to teach as many people as possible these skills, because if you know how to graft, and you know how to grow your own fruit trees from seed or cutting (which we also cover in our workshops) then you have the skills at your fingertips to create an endless supply of fruit trees for free for yourself, your family and friends, or even as the basis of a small business. 

So, here are the 3 basic steps involved for budding:

  1. Collect a piece of scion wood (grafting wood) from the new variety you want to graft onto your existing tree or rootstock;
  2. Cut a single bud from the piece of scion wood and insert it into a “T” shaped cut in a shoot on the tree you’re grafting onto. Insert the bud into the shoot
  3. Tape it up to seal it while the graft heals.
Our WWOOFer Norma taping up one of her bud grafts

If you’re intending to transform an entire tree to a new variety, then you need to do some preparation work in early spring. Remove most of the limbs from the tree and the tree will respond by growing a forest of new shoots to replace the limbs that have been removed. When it comes to budding time, select the shoots that are in the right place to create replacement limbs and bud them, removing all the other shoots.

Budding success!

We love passing these skills on to a whole new generation of food growers and have developed a short online course that includes theory and videos — you can access it here.

Once you understand the theory, then comes the practice! It’s a good idea to do some budding every year, to maintain and improve your skills. Judy was kind enough to attribute her success to our workshop, but in fact it’s actually her commitment to putting it into action that produced her success:

My good fortune is a result of your good teaching..clear, thorough, hands on..with plenty of practicing..can’t B faulted!! I’m about to do a lot more budding..being February!..Thanks heaps for a terrific course.”

Thanks Judy!

Summer in the nursery

Summer in the nursery is time to keep everything alive and thriving. We’ve finished the spring grafting, have mounded up our apple and cherry root stock  in the ‘stool bed’ and the next major action will happen in late summer.  

Couch grass is a big problem in the nursery if left unchecked. Since we rotary hoed the rows before planting into them, it’s made the soil nice and loose but also chopped and spread the couch around. The only thing for it is to stay on top of it and pull it out, roots and all, whenever we see it. Merv is master weeder and a lot more diligent than Katie and me (thanks Merv!).

Watering, composting, and stripping off growth from below the graft are all the things that keep our little trees happy over summer. 

The cherry grafts we did in September are looking amazing at the moment.  We grafted about half our cherry root stocks, the best of which will be up for sale this winter. We had a really good strike rate and the ones that haven’t taken we’ll be able to bud along with the rest of the root stocks in late summer. The budded root stock take a bit longer and will be ready in two winters’ time.

We’ve also been ‘heading’ some of the more vigorous of our apple, cherry and peach seedlings. This involves chopping them off at about knee height and leaving three or four buds below the cut. This is to encourage branching so that rather than one main trunk to bud onto, we end up with three or four branches and can bud multiple varieties onto one tree. The multigrafts we did on plum root stock last year are looking great and have inspired us to multibud more trees. Multibudded trees are a great use of space because you can have cross-pollinating varieties on the same tree and save the need for planting multiple trees, especially  if you’re short on space. 

Happy growing

Sas (and Katie and Merv)